NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Arkansas proclaims itself the fastest 40 minutes in basketball, and the Razorbacks lived up to that billing in the first half, then held on for an 80-72 victory over Tennessee on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
SEC player of the year Bobby Portis, a 6-foot-11 sophomore forward, led 21st-ranked Arkansas (25-7) with a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds. Eighteen of his points came in the first half.
Junior guard Michael Qualls added 20 points, and senior forward Alandise Harris had 11 points to go with eight rebounds.
Tennessee (16-16) got 22 points and 10 rebounds from senior guard Josh Richardson, and junior guard Kevin Punter added 13 points.
After building leads of 13-0, 18-3, 39-19 and 45-25 in the first half, Arkansas, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, was set to cruise to victory after intermission.
But 10th-seeded Tennessee had other ideas.
Arkansas maintained the 20-point lead at 55-35 with 16:43 left in the game, but that’s when Tennessee launched a furious comeback. The Volunteers outscored the Razorbacks 13-2 to cut the lead to 57-48 at the 11:27 mark. Richardson scored four points in the run, and sophomore guard Robert Hubbs and freshman forward Tariq Owens each scored three.
During that run, Arkansas was just 1 for 8 from the field.
After Arkansas pushed the lead back to 13 points at 67-54 with 7:18 left, the Volunteers charged back again. This time an 8-0 run cut the margin to five points at 67-62 with 4:58 left.
Tennessee would get as close as four points, 69-65, after an old-fashioned three-point play by guard Kevin Punter. At that point, Tennessee had outscored Arkansas 40-24 in the second half.
But Tennessee could get no closer.
Arkansas raced out to a 13-0 first-half lead by hitting its first five shots. Portis scored six of the 13 while Qualls and guard Rashad Madden each made a 3-pointer.
Tennessee missed its first six shots and committed three turnovers in the first four-plus minutes. The Volunteers did not score their first basket until junior guard Devon Baulkman made a 3-pointer with 15:20 to play.
After the initial flurry, Arkansas still managed to expand its lead to 15 points at 18-3 on a thunderous dunk by Portis with 14:40 remaining.
With just over five minutes left in the first half, Portis had 18 of Arkansas 30 points, hitting 7 of 10 field-goal attempts. At that point, Portis had as many points as the Tennessee team.
The Razorbacks’ largest lead was 39-19 with 4:37 remaining and they matched it again with a 45-25 halftime lead.
NOTES: Tennessee, the No. 10 seed for SEC Tournament play, advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals with a 67-61 upset of No. 7 seed Vanderbilt on Thursday … Arkansas won the only regular season meeting with Tennessee, a 69-64 victory Jan. 27 in Fayetteville … Tennessee has won the SEC Tournament four times, tying Florida for third most all time. Arkansas has played in six tourney finals, winning once. … Kentucky may have won the league, but runner-up Arkansas features reigning SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis.
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